Irish theatre world to tackle gender discrimination with new policies

Top theatre companies will “grasp the nettle” of gender discrimination by ensuring workers are fully protected from unwanted advances, and guaranteeing half of all new plays are written by women.

In response to a series of scandals in the sector, the Gate, the Abbey, the Lir Academy, the Everyman, Fishamble, and a number of other theatre companies signed up to the new deal yesterday at the launch of a key report into structural and management problems in the performing arts.

In response to revelations concerning former Gate theatre director Michael Colgan and wider gender discrimination allegations, the leading lights of Ireland’s arts world came together last year to help address the wide-reaching crisis.

In a detailed document published yesterday, the senior officials put forward a series of reforms targeting safety in the workplace and vital structural changes in the arts world in a bid to ensure an equal footing for all in the sector.

Under the ‘Gender Equality in Practice in Irish Theatres’ plan, the 10 leading theatre companies have agreed to guarantee:

  • 50% of commissions for new plays will be allocated to female writers;
  • Assurances anyone working in the sector will be fully protected from discrimination and unwanted sexual advances through the creation of Dignity at Work clauses in their employment contracts;
  • Gender-blind readings and castings for roles;
  • An equal balance of men and women on their boards;
  • To achieve gender balance in their arts programmes by 2023;
  • The provision of unconscious bias training for all staff in the workplace.

At the policy launch in the Lir Academy, Trinity College Dublin, yesterday, Everyman artistic director Julie Kelleher told the Irish Examiner the plans show the sector is willing to “grasp the nettle” and “change aspiration into action”. She said the proposals to ensure half of all new plays commissioned by theatre companies were written by women, along with unconscious bias in reading and gender-blind casting, will also help to remove any subtle discrimination in the sector.

Asked about the fact that many of the policies are structural and not focussed on the personal interactions between individuals, Ms Kelleher said the issues go hand in hand and are supported by a recent code of conduct by those in the performing arts.

Ms Kelleher added that the #MeToo movement, last year’s ‘Waking the Feminists’ campaign and the revelations surrounding Mr Colgan had helped to shine a light on issues in the sector which had previously gone unaddressed.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan said she was fully supportive of the measures and believes they will “help to combat” hidden issues. Quoting former US president Barack Obama, she said “empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do”.

The policy plans put forward by the Gender Equality in Practice in Irish Theatres report are supported by the Abbey, the Everyman, the Gate, the Druid Theatre, Fishamble, the Lir Academy, and the Rough Magic theatre company.

They are also backed by the Cork Midsummer Festival, the Corn Exchange, and the Dublin Theatre Festival.


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